Hotel discriminated against Bhangra dancers: tribunal
Bethany Lindsay, ctvbc.ca
Published Thursday, June 9, 2011 8:24PM PDT
An upscale downtown Vancouver hotel has been ordered to pay a Bhangra dance association $5,000 after it unfairly denied their request to book rooms for a competition.
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruled Wednesday that the Sheraton Wall Centre discriminated against the group behind "Bhangra Idols" because of previous problems with an unrelated Punjabi folk dance group.
"The hotel based its decision, in whole or in part, on a presumed association between membership in a Bhangra group, with its strong connection with ancestry or place of origin in the Punjab, and the risk of damage and disruption to the hotel," tribunal member Murray Geiger-Adams wrote in his decision.
According to tribunal documents, hotel staff seemed receptive at first when a volunteer with Pajiguys Entertainment called the Wall Centre in September 2008 to book hotel rooms for participants in the annual Idols competition.
But Wall Centre managers took a look back into security logs from 2007, when participants in the Vancouver International Bhangra Competition stayed at the hotel. Their files showed that VIBC competitors had broken walls and windows, held loud parties and even urinated on the carpets.
The hotel decided to deny Bhangra Idols its booking. Staff members wrote down their reasoning in Wall Centre records: "Group is associated with the International Bhangra Society. Due to past problems the group is not allowed to stay with us anymore."
That was a mistaken assumption. There is no connection between Bhangra Idols and the VIBC; in fact, the two events are in competition with each other.
Raj Sangha, the founder of Bhangra Idols, made his case to the hotel, insisting that his group was not the same one that had caused so much damage in 2007.
Wall Centre staff responded that the situation wasn't any different from if one hockey team had caused problems -- the hotel would be within its rights to enact a policy against admitting hockey teams in general.
But tribunal members said that analogy didn't apply to a culturally specific event like Bhangra Idols.
"Hockey players are not, unlike the complainants in this case, members of a group protected under the [Human Rights Code.] Hockey players can, and do, come from anywhere. On the evidence before me, participants in Bhangra are associated, overwhelmingly, with the Punjab," Geiger-Adams wrote.
He ruled that the hotel should pay Sangha and his volunteer $2,500 each for "injury to their dignity, feelings and self respect."
Bhangra Idols organizers were able to find alternative accommodations for competitors, and the 2008 event went ahead as planned.